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UN: NZ moving in the right direction on race relations

Wednesday 21 Jul 2010 4:48 p.m.

By Melissa Davies

A UN human rights expert in New Zealand to assess the rights of Maori says New Zealand is making positive steps in the right direction.

James Anaya says Maori now need to take it upon themselves to improve their living conditions, but many Maori listening to him speak at Waitangi’s Te Tii marae say they are still the victims of racism in this country.

Nga Puhi welcomed UN special rapporteur Mr Anaya onto the marae. They especially welcomed the opportunity to discuss Maori issues.

It's been five years since Mr Anaya's predecessor criticised Government treatment of Maori. This time, Mr Anaya's message to Maori is that they must try to drive their own destiny. 

“It's in your hands to make a better future,” he told them today.

Hundreds of people packed the meeting hall and many spoke to Mr Anaya, telling him they felt marginalised and the victims of political racism.

“You're here to look at human rights,” said Maori activist Titewhai Harawira. “Let me tell you - human rights doesn't exist in this country.”

Mr Anaya echoed their concerns, but said the repeal of the Foreshore and Seabed Act is one of many examples that race relations are improving. 

“I want to find, and I think I am finding, positive steps to build on while identifying ongoing challenges,” said Mr Anaya.

“The UN can highlight issues but we have to be stronger within ourselves, and I think that was part of the message he was giving us as well,” says Maori Party MP Hone Harawira.

But David Rankin says Mr Anaya's message is meaningless, and he doesn't think the Government invitation to bring him here was necessary.

“It is an insult because it does reflect that we have the inability to articulate ourselves and deliver our own message.

“We can deliver our own message and we deliver it well, and we do live in a country that actually listens to us. As Maori, we are very lucky.”

When National’s Gerry Brownlee was an Opposition politician five years ago, he was highly critical of the then UN rapporteur. But now he appears to have softened his stance.

Tomorrow Mr Anaya will meet with the Maori King Tuheitia and the chief negotiators of the treaty settlements. It's expected to take him a few months to write a report based on these discussions, and today Mr Anaya warned Maori that a report may be the only outcome they get from his visit.

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